According to the New York Times, the number of kids aged six to eleven who have a cell phone has doubled since 2005. And, a study by Retrevo reports that 43% of parents with kids aged 9-12 think that's a good age for a child to get her first cell phone. When I read those articles I started thinking. Not about whether my children (ages 9 and 12) are ready for cell phones, but whether I'm ready for them to have cell phones.
I used to think that the most troubling thing your child could do with a cell phone was excessive texting. But Alina Tugend's article New Worries About Children With Cellphones points out that these days, when your child has a cell phone there are all sorts of new issues to contend with, not the least of which are inappropriate downloads and questionable marketing and sales methods aimed at children, (no, I'm not addressing sexting because that would be its very own article and also I'm in denial.) This point is brought home in an article by Shira Simmonds who is a mom and a marketer (she's president of Ping Mobile) and writes, "In my role as a marketer, the thought of sending mobile content to kids puts dollar signs in my eyes, but as a mother, it conflicts with every protective instinct I have." She goes on to rationalize that sending toy coupons and ads to a child's cell phone gives the parent something to use as incentive for good behavior. In our house, good behavior is expected, not bribed and I'm not a fan of unsolicited texts or ads being sent to my children so they can nag me.
Then there's the issue of bullying online. Landismom writes about how her fifth-grade daughter is only one of three kids in her class who don't have a cell phone and how one child has received bullying texts from other girls. Landismom sums it up by writing, "there is a big difference between giving your kid a phone so you can reach them in an emergency, and unleashing your kid with a technology that the kid doesn’t really understand, and isn’t mature enough to deal with, in many circumstances."
Whether the issue is questionable marketing, bullying, or just using the cell phone as a security blanket and interrupting family time, the way to stem it is to be aware. Talk to your kids about your concerns and expectations, set the rules (and enforce them), and teach them how to handle unexpected situations (like those rogue sales pitches). Like you, I know how to stem the issues and handle them, but I'll be honest with you, I don't want to parent one more thing. Am I lazy? I don't think so. I'm an involved mom who's already monitoring television, movies, video games, the internet, clothing, and friends. Frankly, the thought of adding one more thing to the list makes me hyperventilate.
When I polled my Twitter friends about what age they let their kids have phones, most of them said they gave in at 9th grade, which made me feel good because I've been thinking thirteen would be a great age to have that right of passage. Since 9th grade is, what? About age 14? I can push it back a little more. I may be ready when my son is 14.
Melanie Nelson writes blogging tips and instructions at Blogging Basics 101 and she's in no hurry for her kids to grow up.
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